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A Very Important Map of Boston and Environs

Boston. HALES, John G. [Boston and Philadelphia, 1820]
MAP OF BOSTON AND ITS VICINITY From Actual Survey BY JOHN G. HALES. . 25 ½ x 31 1/8 inches
Engraved map, segmented and backed on linen with marbled-paper self covers, outline color by county. Housed in original slipcase of ½ green leather over marbled paper. Slipcase a bit rubbed and scuffed with some loss to paper on one side; map in excellent condition.


An early state, in a beautiful example, of the best map of Boston and surroundings of its period, one that was the product of three years of original, meticulous surveys of the area, including its road and turnpikes. Though Boston proper had been well mapped over the years—including a very large map by Hales himself issued in 1814—this is the first large-scale map of the greater Boston area. Moreover, Hales, as will be explained below, deserves a place among the first rank of early American surveyors and map makers.
In addition to the unprecedented accuracy of this map’s delineation of the area’s road system, it provides a wealth of information, much of which was not available previously or in the degree of detail found here. Especially interesting is Hales’ rich rendering of topographic features. In addition to the more commonly seen representation of elevations (here including measurements of their heights), Hales also indicated marshes, woodlands; ponds and lakes, even including islands within them; and rivers and streams. Of great documentary value on the map are the locations of factories, mills, taverns, hotels, inns, churches, meeting houses, and the homes of the wealthy and prominent. The map extends to Beverly to the northeast, to Scituate in the southeast, and to Natick, East Sudbury &c. in the west—over 720 square miles in all, presented in the relatively large scale of 1 inch to the mile.
Though scarce on the market now, the map met with commercial success—and deservedly so—with editions dated 1819, 1820 (2 states), 1829, and 1833. Hales' imprint and publication date appear in the lower margins of this map, but on the present example this has been obscured by the selvage. This example appears however to match the earlier of the two 1820 states held by the Leventhal Map Center at the Boston Public Library, the “tell” being the lack of a long note about the Charles River at its junction with the Neponset in Dedham.
Hales' map was for its time and place an advanced piece of work. An advertisement in the June 7, 1819 Boston Gazette tells us that “every Road and River is regularly laid down from lineal Measure, on a Scale of one mile to the inch; the angles mathematically protracted; the summit height of the principal Hills ascertained from Trigonometrical observation…” (p. 4). Previous maps of New England and its parts (with the exception of the charts in The Atlantic Neptune) had been based on metes and bounds surveys, in which a compass and measuring chain or rod were used to run a continuous line along the boundary or other line to be surveyed, with details filled in by observation. Such surveys required little instrumentation or training, but were notoriously liable to inaccuracies introduced by human error, irregularities of terrain, &c.
Hales made a great leap forward by conducting a “trigonometric survey” (or “triangulation”) of the Boston area, which entailed more instrumentation and at least some mathematics, but in return offered far greater accuracy. He may have been the first American to attempt a systematic survey of this sort over a large area, though it had been standard practice among European surveyors for a century.

Boston Engineering Department, Checklist of Maps of Boston, p. 95 (the 1820 edition, though not differentiating the two known states issued that year); Garver, Surveying the Shore, pp. 58-59 (pl. 26) (1819 edition); Phillips, A List of Maps of America, p. 155 (catching only the 1833 edition).

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